Brett Brown can identify a special bond forming between Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, and it comes in ways that go beyond basketball.
The Philadelphia 76ers head coach has plenty of good basketball reasons to support what his mind eye sees, but on Friday night, it was a newfound fashion craze that signified the budding Simmons-Butler partnership. The pair took to the Wells Fargo Center floor sporting a new look; each wore a white headband throughout the Sixers dominant 123-98 victory over the Washington Wizards.
While seemingly trivial, and especially humorous to all involved with the Sixers franchise following their second consecutive blowout victory, Brown sees a deeper meaning for two players that he calls defensive brothers.
“That headband signifies to me that they are bonding,” Brown said. “I’ve asked Jimmy to put Ben under his wing and really help Ben be all that he can be defensively.”
On this night, Simmons was at his defensive best. The Australian deployed his athletic gifts and seized upon a Wizards team that appeared uninterested throughout.
Before garbage time was initiated via the emptying of both benches in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia held Washington to 64 points on an offensive rating of 79.7. Following an emphatic performance against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, it was the second time in three days where the Sixers have shown their defensive potential. Simmons has been instrumental in the turnaround.
“Ben was our bell ringer tonight,” Brown said. “He was that because of his on-ball defence and his off-ball defence. Using his length to make plays with his eyes. I thought he was excellent.”
Entering tonight’s game, the Sixers had posted a 114.3 defensive rating with Simmons and Butler on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. Those results fly in the face of Brown’s optimism. For context, the Wizards entered Friday with the NBA’s worst defensive rating at 113.9.
Brown remained optimistic, when speaking to reporters pre-game, that such poor early results were not indicative of what the Simmons-Butler pairing will become. The 48-minutes of basketball that followed made Brown appear prophetic.
“I see a partnership with those two. I think that Ben Simmons can be anything he wants to be defensively. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think his easiest way of impacting an NBA game, right now, is at the defensive end.
“I feel when Ben locks in, our world changes dramatically. Jimmy, because that’s how he is wired, I see those two guys forming a tremendous partnership.”
Just like his head coach, Butler can see the potential of his budding bromance with the reigning rookie of the year.
“[Ben] makes everybody’s job easier,” Butler said postgame. “Not just on the offensive end but for sure on the defensive end. He can literally switch one through five.
“I think having someone like that on your team makes the world of a difference.”
Simmons finished with 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in 25 minutes against the Wizards. In addition to helping restrict Washington, the Australian was in complete control of the game offensively in the first half. He pushed tempo and, if not for a poor shooting night from the Sixers, would have seen his assist total growth further.
Consecutive victories over the Knicks and Wizards – who own the 15th and 24th ranked NBA offences respectively - will not define the Sixers season, but playing eight straight quarters of promising defence pleases Brown.
“We know we’ve had trouble with backcourts recently and just trying to incrementally improve team defence to guard two All-Stars, you know the Kemba Walkers’s of the world and so on.
“Schematically, with some of our rules, we’re getting better. I think that the technique and the discipline and in some ways the belief, you know what we’re trying to do, some of it’s a little bit new. But I thought guarding those two guys tonight should have been included when I answered my first question; that’s a good effort.”